WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH, NORTH CAROLINA – Disproportionately impacted during the pandemic, summer surf programs for individuals with disabilities are making a comeback at Wrightsville Beach.
“Our camp was shut down for two years, and we lost a lot of funding,” said Nikki Bascome, Director of Surfers Healing North Carolina, a provider of life-changing surf experiences for people with autism. “Our hearts were breaking for all the families who desperately needed a reprieve. As soon as we started up again, our community rallied around us. This year looks as though we are in full swing, and everyone is super excited.”
Surfers Healing does not charge for Surf Camps.
“We’re moving in the right direction,” said Jack Viorel, founder of IndoJax Surf Charities, serving disadvantaged, medically fragile, and special needs children. “Before COVID, we enrolled nearly 1,000 kids per summer. In 2022 we will probably teach 200-300 children. The toughest part is getting the big donors back. Thankfully, the Wilmington Lions Club has stayed with us and really helped during these tough times.”
“No child is turned away from a special needs surf camp due to inability to pay,” added Viorel. “Most families with medically fragile, special needs, or at-risk children are struggling to make ends meet. So, we have taken on the responsibility of raising the money.”
Surf Camps on the Wrightsville Beach 2022 calendar include:
June 22-24: Riding on Insulin Surf Camp (Juvenile Diabetes)
July 12: Visually Impaired Surf Camp (in memory of Travis Leftwich)
Aug 2-4: Childhood Cancer Surf Camp (in memory of Donnalee Wilcox)
Aug 22: Surfers Healing (FULL)
Aug 23: Surfers Healing Military Day (FULL)
“Special needs families and children were hit especially hard over the past two years,” said Mary Baggett, long-time surf camp supporter and co-owner of Blockade Runner Beach Resort. “It is important that people with special needs have opportunities to participate, rebound, and thrive.”
“Our special needs surf programs always start wherever the child is in their life,” said Viorel. “Every child has a different challenge. Some children are working on mobility; others might be working on communication. Some are working on fear. We work on whatever the child needs. We don’t have a cookie cutter plan for all. When you do that, you can always be successful.”
“There are lots of success stories,” added Viorel. “One that stands out is a boy from our visually impaired surf camp. He started the first year we held the camp and returned for several years. He became so accomplished at surfing he was an instructor for a year before heading off to college. Imagine that. A blind surf instructor.”
“Parents are heavily impacted by the surf camp experience. Some parents are overly protective of their special needs child and don’t let them try new things,” noted Viorel. “Our program teaches them that their child can do a lot of things if just given the opportunity.”
“I love making a difference in a child’s life; I love helping a child to be successful, and I really love helping the underdog,” said Viorel.
According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count Data Center, over 498,000 children in North Carolina have special health care needs.
Nikki Bascome, NC Director
Jack Viorel, Director
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